Day 18: Questions to Ask When Purchasing Video Conference Equipment

This post continues our 20 Day Challenge to understand the technical aspects of videoconferencing, particularly the section on dialing.

First: Reseller Definition

First, realize that Tandberg, Polycom and LifeSize generally do not sell directly to customers. They sell through resellers, also called integrators, because theses resellers also sell the peripherals, add-ons and even design the room installations. This could include document cameras, projectors, monitors, furniture, lighting, tier one tech support, and more.

Second: Know Your Needs

Next, think about how you plan to use videoconferencing and what needs you might have.

  • Meetings. Will meetings be only with people within your network/district? or will you need to place and receive calls to video conference systems outside your area?
  • Professional Development. Will you use this only within your network/district? Will you bring in outside professional development providers?
  • Full Length Courses. Will you connect only within your network? Will you need to share content or show your computer to the other side at the same time as showing video (H.239)? Courses are a great application of H.239 content sharing.
  • Content Providers. Will you be connecting to zoos, museums and other organizations? If so you will need to be able to place a call to an IP address, and in a few rare cases, receive a call to an IP address.
  • Connect to Classrooms for Collaborations. Here you don’t want H.239 because the other site will be able to receive it less than half the time. You also will have the best success if you can both place and receive a calls to an IP address. (See previous posts on dialing.)

Also, think about where you are going to install videoconferencing.

  • Mobile cart
  • Dedicated room
  • Connected to your interactive whiteboard

Now you’re ready to ask questions of a reseller.

Do you primarily sell video conferencing equipment?

  • What is the focus of the reseller? Video conferencing? Interactive whiteboards? Projectors? AV integration? Streaming devices? Network infrastructure?
  • Is the reseller very familiar with videoconferencing?
  • Do they sell to K12 education?
  • Does the reseller do a network assessement and make recommendations for best videoconference practice?
  • Does the reseller know about best implementation of videoconferencing on the network?
  • Do they sell all manufacturers equipment or are they solely partnered with one particular manufacturer?

Can you give the the names of three different customers who have needs similar to mine that I can contact?

  • Try to talk to at least three other people across the country who are in a similar situation.
  • Find out what went well.
  • Ask what challenges they had. Listen for any red flags.

Given your recommended purchase, how will I connect off my network?

  • Can I dial out of my network to a TANDBERG, Polycom, or LifeSize endpoint?
  • How do I receive a call from a TANDBERG, Polycom, LifeSize, Sony or Vtel unit that is NOT on my network?
  • Can you demonstrate to me that these different types of units from off my network can dial in?

How do you test the video conference equipment that you sell?

  • Do you test it with a variety of endpoints, bridges, manufacturers, and different versions of software?
  • Do you test it in a closed lab or in real life situations? You really want the reseller on your side as they can advocate on your behalf with the manufacturer.

Are they certified resellers of the particular vendor?

  • Some resellers have higher status with the videoconferencing manufacturer. Generally you’ll get better service from those resellers.
  • Do they provide their own maintenance? Do they have a tiered level of support – some that they do and some that the manufacturer. Or do they resell service from another organization? We prefer the model of tiered support because the first level of support not provided by the manufacturer gives a better perspective on issues. You have less finger pointing.

Full disclosure: Shane and Roxanne work for Whirlidurb, a service of I-2-I Technologies, which is a video conference reseller and integrator.

Team-written by Janine Lim, Shane Howard, and Roxanne Glaser. The opinions expressed in these posts are based on our collective video conference experience connecting classes across multiple networks to connect them to zoos, museums, experts and other classes during the past 10 years. This series of posts reflects our usage and understanding, not that of any vendor or manufacturer. No one is paying us to write these. We are just sharing what we have learned.

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About Janine Lim

Janine Lim, PhD, currently serves as associate dean for online higher education in the School of Distance Education at Andrews University, in Berrien Springs, MI. She and her team support over 200 online courses, provide training for faculty teaching online, and work with the campus infrastructure support of online learning. Her department also provides educational technology and Moodle support for faculty and students. In addition, Janine is responsible for the faculty and courses of the Consortium of Adventist Colleges and Universities. Janine has taught over 15 unique graduate educational technology classes online numerous times over the past 15 years, with some classes attracting participants from all over the world. Her undergraduate teaching includes social media courses for communication and digital media majors. Janine has served on the board of the United States Distance Learning Association since April 2015. Prior to her work at Andrews University, Janine coordinated distance education for 22 K12 school districts in southwest Michigan for 14 years. In that position, as one of the co-founders of TWICE, Michigan’s K12 Videoconferencing Organization, Janine has spearheaded popular international K12 videoconference projects such as Read Around the Planet and MysteryQuest. While still serving on the board of TWICE, she was instrumental in designing and implementing the CAPspace website for collaborative videoconference projects. Janine also served on a team of Michigan educational technology trainers providing a workshop called ATA Technology Academy. Her current online learning research interests include successful teacher behaviors, quality online discussions, and student activity patterns in self-paced courses.
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